Among the AIDS patients - a wake up call

By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
July 3, 2001

Out of sheer curiousity many might want to venture a visit to the Men's and Women's Medical Wards of the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH) where persons with the dreaded disease, AIDS, are housed.
However, the sight of some of their skeletal bodies may make the thought of bolting out the door more than inviting.

It is a definite wake up call for anyone who visits these wards and tends to evoke silent prayers for divine protection from the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and eventual death.

The sight of the tearful and listless eyes sitting in the sockets of the sunken faces evokes a gripping pain in the pit of one's stomach.

It also brings back the words of Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy who recently said at a press conference that "HIV/AIDS is a modern day plague in Guyana." The truth is the virus is a plague in every part of the world.

A recent media tour of the wards, organised by the hospital administration, was intended to give a first-hand insight into the suffering of those who are infected as well as the enormous challenges being faced by the nurses and doctors who have the responsibility of caregivers.

Harrowing stories are told by those infected as they pant for breath and relive the first moments after learning that they had contracted the feared disease.

Tried to murder girlfriend
One man thought his girlfriend had infected him with the virus and in retaliation he attempted to murder her, inflicting multiple stab wounds. Now, though frail and weak, he is serving a prison sentence, but because of his deteriorating condition he is a patient of the hospital. While his handcuffs are attached to the bed, not his hands, a prison guard sits at the door of the ward.
However, the last thought in 36-year-old Rolston Dalgety's mind is escaping from custody - to him the hospital is his refuge.

Dalgety, dressed in a pyjamas with the waist tied up around his shrunken waistline, said he discovered he had the virus while in Brazil. He had visited a doctor after noticing that his finger nails were rotting and his tongue had become black. In that year, 1991, he never imagined it was HIV/AIDS but he has since become accustomed to it and is actually thinking that he is healed even though his frail body and bandaged throat, which has a hole in it, tell a totally different story.

He attempted to murder his girlfriend after returning to Guyana and was jailed in 1996 but escaped from prison and returned to Brazil in 1998. He was recaptured after he returned to Guyana and will finish his sentence in August this year. He plans to be baptised in Lethem when he is out since he is now a born-again Christian.
Once he had a huge appetite but now he finds it hard to consume food and tries to sustain his body by forcing himself to eat. After speaking, he attempted to go for his meal but slumped on his bed owing to his weak state. Undaunted, he soon called for the nurse to bring his lunch.

Caught HIV at 18
In striking contrast Cynthia could be seen busily walking about the ward with a bright smile. Her condition does not bother her as much as it did in the past. She consoles herself: "Once I get the love of my grandmother I am happy." She is very grateful to her grandmother with whom she grew up and even though she has no real friends anymore she says it is no big problem.
Speaking to someone with the HIV virus always brings a sad story but meeting a twenty-one-year-old who got infected at age 18 certainly confirms that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. Cynthia Stevens disclosed that when she revealed her illness to her boyfriend, he literally ran away and has never spoken to her since.
She warned that young people should abstain from sex until the right time or use a condom when having intercourse. Cynthia had a prolonged cold for which she eventually visited a doctor who tested her and gave her the dreadful news. Still coughing, she said assuredly "But I am OK, I am not taking it on."

Wanted to commit suicide
Fifty-five-year-old Jean Atwell who had a live-in companion for 15 years after her husband departed this world declares that the virus "came to me in my home."
As many persons are tempted to do, Jean wanted to commit suicide when she got her HIV verdict but being a Christian she knelt down and prayed to the Lord for the strength to go on. The mother of ten learnt about her condition about six months ago and since then she has not seen the man she lived with for the past 15 years.
She suspected she had contracted the virus after becoming constantly ill and never really recovered but when her suspicion was confirmed she was still shocked. Jean was going home on the day she spoke to the media and she was actually happy since her children and other family members have given her tremendous support.

Nowhere to go
Forty-one-year-old Gregory James does not know how he contracted the virus but that is the least of his concerns. His immediate problem is being discharged from the hospital and having nowhere to go.
Gregory, with his little bag packed and sitting under his bed, was crying as he had nowhere to go after he left the hospital. He said he was in the hospital before but his family carried him back and he has not seen them since. Gregory has no children.
Asked about his life, Gregory simply put it as being "rough." He has no friends and even though he has relatives it is almost as if he has none. Sitting with his hand between his legs and shaking, Gregory presented a pitiful sight.

Cats in the ward
The floor in the wards appears freshly wiped, yet a strange mixture of unwelcomed odours assails one's nostrils. The stained walls of the male ward is quite an eyesore as a backdrop for the half-naked bodies moving like sleep-walkers around the ward or just lying forlornly on the beds.
The female ward, strikingly different, gives a tidier presentation. Peculiarly, there are two fat fluffy cats slinking around contentedly. The cats appear to be the most healthy beings in the ward, except of course for the nurses, doctors and visitors, but what they are doing there is a question this newspaper cannot answer.